Farewell Crossleys

Posted by editor on January 6, 2010 under Business, training and employment

As the Rolls-Royce site on Pottery Lane faces the demolition gang, Len Grant nips in to chat with the one of the last employees about the site’s historic past.

Last Man Standing: David Hibbert was one of the last Rolls-Royce employees to leave Crossley Works

Last Man Standing: David Hibbert was one of the last Rolls-Royce employees to leave Crossley Works

When David Hibbert first joined Crossley Premier Engines in 1968 he was expecting to working as a fitter or an engineer. His career path changed after he returned from a stint at the local college. “As apprentices, we’d all done 40 weeks next door at Openshaw Technical College [now the Manchester College] before reporting back to the factory to be assigned our jobs. Some of the lads were taken to the shop floor but I was sent to the drawing office and started work as a junior draughtsman. There was no explanation, I was just told to get on with it.”

These were turbulent times for the engine manufacturers who – as Crossley Brothers – had built a new factory at Pottery Lane in 1882 after outgrowing their Manchester city centre premises. At the turn of the century business was booming. Francis and William Crossley at first made gas-fuelled engines, and then diesel and petrol engines. The potential for motor car engines was not lost on the two brothers – indeed Henry Ford visited Openshaw to see how they did it – and a new factory was established in Gorton in 1906 from which another branch of company history unfolded under Crossley Motors.

Industrial engines, for railways and shipping, continued to be designed and manufactured at Pottery Lane. In the early 1960s the company took out the licence to build a French engine called the Pielstick and, although they were selling well, the company went into liquidation and was bought out. Almost as soon as David had picked up his pencil and slide rule, the company became part of the Amalgamated Power Engineering Group and the sign on the side of the factory changed again to APE-Crossley Ltd.

In later years Rolls-Royce at Crossley Works became a spares and serice centre

In later years Rolls-Royce at Crossley Works became a spares and serice centre

“The shipbuilding industry was shrinking at that time and although we still supplied some engines to the Ministry of Defence – our engines still power HMS Ocean – we switched to producing engines for industrial power generation mainly in developing countries like Sudan, Fiji and Bermuda.”

Rolls-Royce took over the business in 1988 and continued Pielstick production for another eight years. “Understandably Rolls-Royce were more interested in producing their own world-beating engine rather than someone else’s under licence,” recalls David. “At their Bedford base they designed the Allen 5000 and tested it here for 1,000 hours. All was well until it went into the field and then problems occurred. By the time design changes were made the project had to be scrapped because it had been tarnished with a bad reputation.

“Over the last decade or so, Crossley Works has become a spares and service centre for the Pielstick product,” continues David. “We’ve had numerous redundancies over the last 25 years and it’s been sad to see the business slowly shrinking. We stopped operations all together in February and since then what’s left of the business has been transferred to Rolls-Royce in Scotland.”

At the end of 2009, David and a few colleagues were packing up, ready to leave Crossley Works – the last employees after 127 years – and make way for demolition workers preparing the site for future redevelopment.

Below is slideshow of historical and contemporary images of Crossley Works. It’s automatic: no need to click.

Lest We Forget

Posted by editor on November 12, 2009 under Community, Education and health

Len Grant visits a special Remembrance Day service in Gorton… for the whole community.

Rev David Grey leads the service at the war memorial

Rev David Grey leads the service at the war memorial

It’s been Remembrance Day today: 91 years since the armistice signed between the Allies and Germany marked the end of the First World War. Now, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, thousands of services are being held up and down the country as people stop in their tracks to remember the fallen in conflicts past and present.

Respect from across the generations

Respect from across the generations

I’ve come to Gorton Cemetery where schoolchildren from 17 primary and high schools are joining ex-servicemen, young men from the local training corps, serving police and fire officers and local families to commemorate the lives lost.

St Clements, Openshaw: “We’re here to remember everyone who has died.”

St Clements, Openshaw: “We’re here to remember everyone who has died.”

Sharon Adesiyan is here with her classmates from St Clements School in Openshaw. They have been learning about the Second World War at school. What, I ask, have you found out? “All the women took over the men’s jobs while they went off to fight,” she says. “And did they do a better job?” I ask, rather unfairly. “They did just as good a job as the men,” she replied, diplomatically.

A brass band from Wright Robinson College strikes up to signify the start of the service. “It’s not about us old folk”, says Rev. David Gray, “those who put their lives on the line did so for the world their children would inherit. Today is about you and about all of us honouring them by doing all we can in our time to build peace for you and with you for future generations.”

There are prayers, readings, more from the band and a procession of wreaths. Then, at 11 o’clock, the bearers lower their standards and their heads in silent contemplation.

Les Worthington: “This is the ninth year and each time we go from strength to strength.”

Les Worthington: “This is the ninth year and each time we go from strength to strength.”

This event at the cemetery is relatively recent. Only since 2001 have local people gathered each November, all due to the efforts of Les Worthington, chair of the Belle Vue branch of the Royal British Legion. “There were only eight of us at that first remembrance service,” he recalls, “and only two of them were servicemen.” Since then, Les has built up the event to include local schools, and, judging by the turnout today, he has been extremely successful.

He allocates each school a section of the cemetery and after the service the children and their teachers investigate their portion on a map supplied by Les.

“We’ve been coming down for four years now,” Neil Flint, headteacher of Aspinall Primary School in Gorton tells me. “It’s incredibly useful in getting the children talking about the various conflicts and the sacrifices made. There are eight war graves in this section of the cemetery and for each one we find the age, rank and regiment of the fallen soldier.”

Each school marks the  war graves in their section of the cemetery

Each school marks the war graves in their section of the cemetery

As the standard bearers roll up their ceremonial flags, the schoolchildren scatter to all parts of the cemetery and place poppy crosses in front of the 157 war graves. They ask their teachers questions about each headstone, adding their own family’s experiences of great-grandfathers and grandfathers. Today is a day they will not forget.

Nutsford Vale

Posted by editor on November 9, 2009 under Environment

Years ago this patch of woodland in Gorton was a landfill site, but now – after winning a £300,000 grant – Nutsford Vale has its sights set on becoming a visitor destination.

“Every Sunday was disturbed by the whine of trail bikes tearing around,” recalls local resident, Alan G. “It was becoming a playground for bikers and a favourite spot for illegal tipping.”

Nutsford Vale

Nutsford Vale

Fed up with their piece of countryside sinking into abandonment, Alan and some of his neighbours set up the Nutsford Vale Park Project more than 10 years ago to lobby for change. Now, after a decade of small grants and piecemeal improvements, the Vale has hit the jackpot: more than £300,000 will be spent in the next two years to create a valuable community resource.

The money comes from a £4.7 million initiative by the North West Development Agency to fund the remediation of 400 acres (equivalent to about 200 football pitches) of brownfield land in Merseyside and Greater Manchester. The ‘Setting the Scene for Growth’ programme aims to transform what were once municipal tips.

Jackson's Clay Pit, 1964

Jackson's Clay Pit, 1964

A generation ago the 40-acre Nutsford Vale was a known as Jackson’s Clay Pit, with lorries and heavy machinery working the relatively small patch between the densely populated housing. Once closed the pit was filled with council waste until 1978 when, presumably, it could hold no more.

Red Rose Forest, the partnership organisation charged with ‘greening’ Greater Manchester, submitted the successful bid after consultation with the residents’ group. “We’ve been working together for some years now,” says Hilary Wood from Red Rose. “We originally raised some funding through the Green Tips Project which meant we could fence off part of the site, and do a little planting.”

Matthew's Lane Corporation Tip, 1974

Matthew's Lane Corporation Tip, 1974

There’s a tarmac path that cuts across the thinnest part of the site, a convenient and popular shortcut with staggered barriers to deter the motorbikes. The entrances will be a priority once the work gets underway later this year and this path will have a hedgerow running alongside it.

“First, we’ll get rid of all the rubbish,” says Hilary, “then we’ll enhance the entry points and secure the boundaries by finishing off the fencing. We’ll consult with local people about what they’d like to see in the Vale. Maybe there could be a play facility, or a feature, some sort of attraction that would give people a reason to come.”

“Although we want to make it more accessible,” she continues, “we don’t want to lose the wilderness element. A wildflower area is a possibility and it certainly should still be a place where people can escape to.”

The first job will be to get rid of all the rubbish

The first job will be to get rid of all the rubbish

Tony Hall, another resident and member of the friends’ group, agrees: “In the summer, with all the foliage out, you can hardly see any of the surrounding houses. You feel as if you’re in the middle of nowhere.”

“It has the potential to follow in the successful footsteps of Clayton Vale,” says Julie Lawrence, New East Manchester’s Environment Programme Manager. “There’s a strong ‘friends’ group which is essential to the long term success of the Vale and with the right sort of maintenance programme and support after the initial investment, there’s no reason why Nutsford Vale shouldn’t continue to prosper.”

Consultations will take place locally with interested groups to discuss plans for the Vale.

redroseforest.co.uk
nutsfordvale.wordpress.com

Archive images courtesy of Manchester Local Image Collection.

Sportcity: Then and Now

Posted by editor on August 10, 2009 under Community

“It was essentially an economy based on coal,” says Gary Crate, Sportcity Estate Manager, as he takes a look back at the history of the Sportcity site.

Gary uses aerial photographs from 1958, 1998 and 2007 to illustrate just how radically the area has changed.

Don’t forget to turn the volume up on your computer.

Some archive images courtesy of Manchester Local Image Collection.

Do you have memories or memorabilia from living or working in east Manchester? Gary would like to hear from you. Contact him at gary.crate@manchester.gov.uk , 0161 227 3151 or call in at The Visitors Centre, corner of Ashton New Road and Alan Turing Way.